Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 19

Four Arms had genetic memories. Ones that went beyond instincts, beyond those basic intuitions that most species had that seemed to be encoded in the basic genome. Humans had recorded this very phenomenon with savants; somehow they had knowledge that allowed them do things they couldn’t have possibly learned through experience.

This was something I hadn’t come across before. “How does a trainer release the memories?” Some sort of ceremony?

“I show him once, he knows.” Garjah sliced off another piece of meat. “Doesn’t mean Seedrah is good at it.”

“You weren’t good at your role once upon a time.” Timok raised an eyebrow. “Now look at you.”

“Still stupid, according to you.” Garjah wiggled the fingers on one of his free hands.

Timok’s lips curled up in a smirk. “About many things, yes. Our security? No.”

Watching their interaction was fascinating but their words weren’t reassuring. Timok was very intelligent. I dropped my gaze to my plate, stabbing the food with my fork harder than necessary. A warning? If Garjah was that good at his job, my escape would be much harder.

If it was even possible. Their medical technology I’d glimpsed when I woke up in Timok’s lab was advanced. The weapons definitely were. They looked down on humans. Or our advancement, more specifically our lack of advancement.

They’d found me easily enough in my exosuit once before. I’d come to Ardra to learn about the planet. The Four Arms came here, so they’d know a lot about it. I didn’t even know Bouncer had poison sacks on his claws.

What else could they teach me? Timok said it wasn’t up to him about letting me go. If Garjah was head of security, maybe it was his. Or whoever the overall leader was. Getting away was probably going to be impossible, especially since I couldn’t get off the planet. Somehow I had to convince them to let me go. Garjah was har, so it might take some time.

Time I probably had.  The skimmer was far behind us, Sonez even farther. Timok was smart, but I was smart too. Plans change. I wasn’t in danger, and there was new information to learn. I just had to stick with Garjah.

“What are you doing after the meal?” I asked as I pushed the meat cubes around on my plate.

“Me?” Timok asked. He leaned back.

What did I say? No? Yes? I wasn’t asking him, but….

“You will be back in your lab, studying, running tests, doing what you always do,” Garjah said. “The same old boring thing as always.”

“Essell doesn’t know what I do. And he studies animals and plants for a living, so he does plenty of work of the same type.” Timok finished the last of the food on his plate.

“I was going to take him to his Bouncer. Maybe wake him up.”

I gasped. “Really?”

“He will stay in the cage.” Garjah’s stiff posture and firm words left no room for argument.

“Do you do that often?” I wiped off my fork, setting it aside.

“Do what?”

“Give orders and expect them to be followed without question?”

Timok’s nose narrowed and he grinned widely, showing off those sharp teeth. “Yes, he does.”

“It is my role.”

“Humans don’t work like that.” Well, the military did. But I was a scientist. For me, knowledge was more important than orders. I’d risk a lot for it. Look where that got me. Still… “Bouncer never hurt me. Give me my exosuit. Let me show you. Besides, he’ll be hungry.”

“Yes, he will. Which is why I said he should be woken up. Stasis, safe as it is, can be damaging to cells. We don’t use it on cerops.”

“You used it on me! If you don’t know if it will hurt him, could it have hurt me? Do you even know?”

“Of course I do. I ran extensive scans when you were in my lab. You’re fine.”

“You’re what he’s studying,” Garjah said.

I blinked. “I’m what?”

“We’ve watched humans, we have knowledge of them. Interactions with them? Not many.” Timok reached out and picked up my fork. “Things like these. Alien. Your need for fluids, chewing. Your single pair of arms. Besides, you’ve been studying us just as carefully.”

“I didn’t take lab tests of you!”

“Only because you couldn’t. You know you would, if you had the chance.”

Humans had done such things, many times. Ethical studies weren’t always the backbone of all scientists. But not me. “I—”

“So if I said you could come to my lab and work with me, you’d say no?”

Garjah just watched our interaction, his face impassive. I wanted to spend time with him. I needed to show them Bouncer was safe. I wanted to wake him up, feed him, ensure he was back to his usual self. But Timok’s offer was a nearly irresistible lure, and the bastard knew it.

Four Arms could definitely pull off a smug look.

I narrowed my eyes, tapped the table, then reached for my fork. “How about you go with us to wake up Bouncer, just in case he isn’t okay, and then after I prove how safe he is to Garjah, we go to your lab? I’ll help you further your studies on humans, and you can help me study Bouncer.” I left off study them, but I wasn’t about to show my whole hand.

Garjah’s silence was broken by what I could only call a laugh. It rumbled in his chest and came out without him even opening his mouth, but he was grinning. “Are all humans as wily as you?” he asked.


“You are getting Timok out of his lab, getting your cerops awakened, your sad little suit returned, and managing to insert yourself into scientific studies later when the timing better suits you.” He spread two hands. “Wily.”

He left off spend time with himself, but maybe I’d kept that aim subtle. I shrugged. “I’m considered pretty smart,” is all I said.

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: First Snow


A holiday short story for your Christmas week enjoyment! 

Miguel peered out the window into the darkness. It was rain mixed with slush. The edges of the window were rimed with frost, and he shouldn’t want it to snow, but he did. He had to go back to job hunting in the morning, and his coat wasn’t thick enough to keep out the cold, but could it be worse than the rain? It was still damp from his futile all day trek yesterday, even though he’d left it draped over the vent.

Maybe he should have stayed in Florida, where everything was familiar, where the weather didn’t make his fingers and feet ache with cold. But he needed a fresh start. Take some classes, a job… friends.

He’d figure it out. His mom had always said Miguel was gifted with eternal optimism. And a white Christmas would be amazing. Miguel touched the tiny star on the mini Christmas tree he’d gotten from the one dollar store when he went to stock up on cheap groceries. Yeah, it was one less loaf of bread, but it had lights, which brightened his tiny dorm room.

Totally worth it.

A rapid tap on the door pulled him away from his desk at the window. “Miguel! You’re here, great!”

“Where else would I be?”

Wink shrugged and darted under his arm, somehow dancing into the room without making it look weird. “A lot of students left. It’s super quiet. I wasn’t sure if you would still be here. Yesterday when I knocked, you didn’t answer.”

“I was out looking for a job.”

“You were?” Wink tilted his head. “What kind?”

“The kind that works around my classes and pays me something.” He wasn’t choosy. Miguel sat on the bed.

“I’ll help you, if you want.” Wink turned and practically lit up. “You have a tree! Oh, it’s cute. You like Christmas?” He stood over Miguel’s tiny tree and touched the lights, blue, green, and red reflecting on his glasses.

“Who doesn’t?”

Wink shrugged. “Lots of people. The Christmas spirit can dim, especially for certain ages.”

“Most college kids are probably too mature to decorate their dorm rooms.” Miguel’s face heated. Maybe he should have bought the bread.

A second later, Wink was on his bed next to him. “Your tree is perfect. At home, we always do Christmas up big. Tree, lights, cookies. It’s a thing!”

“So why are you here?” Alone. Like Miguel. He was there because his mom had died and the rest of his family and friends didn’t want him. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that.” He didn’t want to upset Wink if he had a crappy home he was avoiding too.

“I thought about going back, but I wasn’t sure. I like the people here.”

“You can’t go just for break?” Miguel looked at the thick rain coming down the window. The light outside his window flickered.

“Maybe. It’s hard to leave and come back.”

“Because of snow?” He still had the flakes on his mind. “I bet it’s hard to drive in snow.” Wink had a red car. Nothing fancy, but he’d given Miguel a ride a few times.

“Not exactly. Haven’t you driven in the snow before?”

Miguel shook his head. “I’ve never even seen snow.”

“What?” Wink’s mouth dropped open. “No way! You haven’t?”

“Nope. I’m hoping it’ll snow for Christmas.”

“Maybe it will. It’s cold enough. Hey, do you want to come to my room? We could watch movies? I have cocoa. And pizza.” He tacked on the pizza with a grin, knowing that would get him. Miguel loved pizza.

“Cocoa and pizza?” Miguel raised his eyebrows.

“It’s almost Christmas. Cocoa is always okay.”

And pizza was a food group all on its own. It really did go with anything. Miguel grabbed his hoodie off his pillow. “Okay.”


The pizza was crispy, and hot, and full of meat and cheese. The cocoa was nothing to write home about—as if he would—but sitting on the bed in Wink’s room watching Christmas movies was just what Miguel needed. He sank against the pillows. Wink had tons of them and they were all red and green. A tree blinked on the desk taking up the whole top. Lights framed the window.

It made his little tree look even sadder. Wink definitely did Christmas.

Miguel yawned, then focused on the TV. Jack Frost was zipping around bringing snow and ice. The old shows were his mom’s favorites too. He wondered how Wink knew, like he always did. Came over with food when Miguel was on his bag of noodles. Casual hugs when he missed his family the most.

He’d replaced the best friend who’d turned his back on Miguel when he came out. Became an even better one.

“Hey, hey Miguel, wake up.” Wink shook his shoulder gently.

“Huh?” Miguel wiped his mouth in case he’d drooled. “Sorry. I should go back to my room.”

“No, you should come here for a minute,” Wink said softly. He pulled on Miguel’s hand, hauling him out of the pile of pillows. “Shoes on.”

“Why do I need my shoes?”

“Trust me.”

He did, so Miguel slid his feet into his sneakers. He took his coat. Wink hauled him out by the hand. “I wanted you to see this.”

The lawn was covered in a field of white. Fat, fluffy flakes floated down in the yellow shine of the lamps overhead. The air was somehow warmer than it had been before. It was quiet, calm.

Miguel reached out a hand and caught a flake. For a second, before it melted, it lay perfect on his palm. His first snow. It was beautiful.

“Make a wish,” said Wink.

So he did.

When Miguel opened his eyes, the field was gone, but the snow remained. Christmas lights, trees, and the jingle of bells. Snow fell from a sky light with flickering lights.

“Wow. You brought me home, Miguel. Thank you.” Wink hugged him. “Welcome to the North Pole.”

“I knew it!”

 Merry Christmas! 

Want more flash?

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 18


“I thought you were working.”

“You’re going to eat now, yes?” Garjah filled the doorway.

“I thought Timok was taking me.” I stepped out of my quarters, and the door swished closed behind me. “He was just here.”

“Timok will meet us there. He is getting the food.” Garjah started walking, and before the turn in the corridor I was struggling to keep up and breathe without panting.

He slowed. “I apologize.”

“Fine.” I waved him off. “Just, slow down please?”

“Are you sure? I can carry you.” His lower arms lifted away from his body slightly.

“No! I can walk.”

His thin nostrils flared as his mouth twisted to one side. “Timok said I invaded human body taboos. That you have privacy laws dictating a neutral region of space around your form. Please accept my apologies.” He saluted and bowed, waving me forward. “Please, take the lead. We will go at your pace.”

I blinked repeatedly. That was oddly formal. When I first heard him talking to Timok I’d gotten the impression he was more muscle than brain. Action than thought. But the way the other Four Arms deferred to him and hints of things he’d said was leaving me with the impression he was someone far more important than I’d originally thought.

Not a simple alien stunning things left and right, that was for certain. Though, he still failed to retain some basic facts about me. “I don’t know how to get there.”

His face scrunched again. “But we went there once before.”

“I’m a slow learner?” He probably wouldn’t get the sarcasm. I actually graduated fourth out of thousands, the reasons I was awarded a solo research shipboard position rather than an assistant research role. “I also can’t read those.” I pointed to the guide strips.

Boldly, I reached out and gripped his arm. “Why don’t we walk together?”

“If you wish.” He kept his elbow out awkwardly, his upper arms crossed over his chest. Was he offended by my touch? But he’d touched me. A lot! “This doesn’t bother you?”

“No, why would it?” I tilted my head as we walked to look at his face, trying to figure out his expression. I wished he had eyebrows. With his smooth forehead, it was hard to read his facial expressions when they didn’t include his nostrils or mouth moving.

“You are touching me, and we are walking close together.”

“But I’m walking,” I pointed out. “You’re not carting me around like an invalid. It’s not about touching as much as the intention behind the touching.”

“I will remember that.” Walking at my pace was probably torture for him, but he didn’t complain. He attempted to explain the guides again, but I’d used my wrist unit to help me navigate all the ships, stations, and planets I’d lived on. I could follow a beacon’s directions—that was about it. Garjah seemed to have all sorts of skills and the respect of every Four Arms who crossed our path.

When we got to the dining hall, an entire table was empty except for Timok, though I could see that left the other tables crowded. Four Arms really were large and wide as a group. “Okay, I have to ask. What exactly do you do?”

Garjah ducked his pointed chin into his chest. “I haven’t done anything. You touched me.”

Was he still worried about that? “That isn’t what I meant. Look…” I waved a hand around the dining hall, trying to ignore all the stares focused on me. “I could assume none of them want to eat with me because I’m scary, or contagious, or something other reason l but then they probably wouldn’t be staring like that. So I’m guessing the distance is for you. To show respect. Or fear.” I paused after that last thought tumbled out of my mouth unbidden.

“But you don’t seem like someone who is too scary. At least, not after you stop shooting people and putting them in stasis without any warning,” I said acerbically. I shook off my resentment since it wouldn’t get me the answers I needed. “So who are you? Why do they all treat you this way? Are you,” I swallowed hard, “the captain?”

Timok heard my last question and smirked. “That would be a disaster.”

“As if you could be captain,” Garjah said mildly.

“I wouldn’t want to be.” He shuddered. “Too many people to manage. I’ll stick with my lab and studying life forms, thank you.”

Grateful for the chair pulled up to the table, I eased down to take the weight off. My legs ached and were trembling. I was going to have amazing muscles when I got off this ship. “I know what you mean,” I told Timok.

“I am the security leader,” Garjah said. He took the seat next to me, filling it and more. “I see to the safety and protection of all on this ship.”

“And you’re training Seedrah because….” I picked up the protein cubes, sure of what they were at least. These were spiced differently than before. Bitter, with a smoky undertone. Not as pleasant. I wrinkled my nose, putting down my fork.

“He is the same as I. It is his role.” Garjah sliced off a chunk of whatever slab thing covered his plate and swallowed it down.

“That explains nothing,” I complained. “Why is he like you? Is it his markings? His size? Is he family?”

Timok was watching us closely but didn’t say anything as he ate quietly.

“He was born to it, as I was.”

Pulling teeth… I wanted to scream! “What does that mean?”

Timok finally took pity on me. “Unlike humans, who apparently even have tests they take to find out what they have an affinity to do as a career, we are born to our roles. The knowledge”—he tapped his forehead—“is locked within. We must simply release it with the assistance of a trainer. Once we have matured, of course.”


Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 17

 Hook. Line. Sinker. It was an old line I’d picked up from my nurse. She’d had all these old idioms that made very little sense. I’d never lived near a lot of water, so that one had intrigued me the most. She’d told me stories of fish great and small, and giant white whales—creatures that roamed the depths of the oceans and had been hunted by men in boats dug out from trees, their weapons so primitive it seemed amazing they were able to catch anything at all, much less something so large.

But humans could do amazing things. Like trick aliens. I hadn’t been harmed, but the conversations I’d overheard hadn’t been exactly friendly toward my kind either. It put me on edge and tempered my curiosity about the Four Arms. I’d rather be studying the animals I’d discovered on Ardra.

I clasped my hands together and tilted my head to one side, sitting slumped on the bunk. Small. Two arms only. No suit. No weapon. Just wanted some clean clothes, that’s all.

“Seedrah, please bring the human’s pack to L17.”

Bingo! I resisted the urge to grin but just barely. “I appreciate that.” I hoped showing thanks in their culture wasn’t a bad thing. Garjah had helped me a lot; cultures that took offense to such gestures were usually more stand on your own two feet or flounder. He’d literally swept me off mine several times.

We spent the time waiting for the Four Arms Timok called, Seedrah, by cautiously probing each other. Timok was far more open in his questions about humans. He had a data pad which he used to tap in notes as he questioned me about my preferred planet, diet, and he was beginning on family structure when the alert came.

Just in the nick of time. How to explain absent parents and stand in nurturers?

At least I’d learned more about them. I’d grasped they didn’t exactly chew, but Timok had given me a closer look at his mouth. The jaw really did have a fascinating hinge, and their throat structure was very unique. It made sense why they would eat a diet more focused on protein. What vegetation they ate was usually prepared in strips or came naturally in long, narrow stalks.  

I was hoping to get my fork as well as my clothes. The tongs were awkward, and I was afraid I’d slice my tongue off with the knife.

“The pack you requested, Timok.” Seedrah was one of the Four Arms who had ridges like Garjah. His markings were subtle, faded, and he looked like he was still growing into his limbs.

“Thank you.”

Seedrah saluted with two of his hands and stepped back so the door slid shut. His gaze was locked on me the whole time.

“Is he related to Garjah?” They had a similar intensity.

“Related?” Timok held my pack, the metal frame dangling from one of his hands. “That word has different meanings.”

“Do they share a genetic connection?”

“No. They are both of the same affiliation.”

I tilted my head. “Affiliation?” What could that be that lead to a similar physiology and behavior?

“Garjah is training Seedrah. He will be leader one day. The same as I am training Glovdok to take my place. I must check this,” he said, indicating my pack. “I know security would have checked it, but they do not have the knowledge on humans I do.”

Pressing my lips together, I nodded once. I didn’t like people going through my things, but Timok was at least a fellow scientist. Or a doctor. I wasn’t quite sure of his role. Timok. Glovdok. Garjah. Seedrah. The pattern couldn’t be a coincidence. Four Arms were named based on their roles and their bodies seemed to reflect that similarity.

Was it a genetic memory thing? A rank? Name then rank. Maybe I didn’t hear the separation between the two. I itched for anything to record everything I was learning, but I knew they wouldn’t let me. Maybe there was more to First Contact than I thought.

After rummaging around in my pack, Timok handed it over. “You can change. Low-gravvers struggle in an environment like ours, so after the meal, more rest is recommended until you acclimate better.”

“Can you step out?”

“Body shy? I did not think of that.”

“There’s not exactly anywhere private to go.” The toilet was in the corner, the shower was in the middle of the floor, and the bunk wasn’t going to hide anything.

Timok looked at me suspiciously, but he’d searched my pack. I waited. “I’ll be right outside. The meal will end soon, so please do not take too long.”

I dumped my pack on the bed as soon as the door swished behind him. Clothes, food, my first aid kit, my spare power packs, specimen kits, and small tools. I couldn’t believe they left those in there. With some privacy, I just might be able to rig up something with the tools at my disposal. I’d have to look more at their technology.

Skimming out of my suit, I pulled out a long-sleeved black suit stored in a tiny vacuum pack and undid the top. I shook it out then slid it on. It was snug, but it encased my feet and hooked over my thumbs to cover my arms. It was light enough not to be too warm. It would hide more of my pale skin. I couldn’t do anything about the lack of a second set of arms or my much smaller stature.

I tucked my kit back into my pack, carefully hiding the most useful tools inside my dirty suit, which I buried at the bottom. Trudging over to the door, I fumbled with the controls but eventually got it to open. Time to face the music. I snorted. Well, the room full of aliens who were bound to stare at me.

“Garjah!” My voice rose in surprise.

“Ready to eat?” 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalgon Chapter 16


I was tempted to irk Garjah by testing the material around Bouncer’s feet. It was molded to his feet like a second skin. I’d seen the same thing holding liquid in the front of the hold, and it was flexible. I had to assume it was to prevent any of the poison they said was in his claws from coming out. Or did he inject it. The curiosity almost made me pick up his front leg and press on the pad, but Garjah’s hovering prevented it.

Besides, what if his claws punctured it. I tilted my head… but then what good would it do? But it was thin, and flexible, just like plastic. Frustrated, I wished for my pack and scanner. I wasn’t into technology, but the Four Arms had very advanced materials. It would be great to get a sample of the clear material because it definitely wasn’t any sort of clear film I knew, and if I could get some readings on the poison Bouncer had, that’d be even better.

After all, his behavior wasn’t going to be indicative of his species anymore but I could definitely study his physiology.

“Are you done touching him?” Garjah asked.

“Hmm? Oh, what? No.” I’d stopped with my hand in the air above Bouncer’s shoulder, contemplating his paws. “Why can’t we wake him up?”

“Do you wish him to be stuck in this tiny cage?”

I stiffened. “Of course not. He could stay with me.”

“No.” Garjah straightened. He locked all four arms together in a weird clinch at his waist. If he was an animal, I’d say he’d taken a defensive posture.

“Of course not because of great and powerful Garjah has spoken. Right? Is there anyone higher in rank than you I can talk to?” I really didn’t like Bouncer being in stasis. This was wrong. Even though he was warm under my touch, his muscles were lax, he wasn’t bouncing, and he wasn’t begging me for food. I missed his energy.


Sighing, I turned away from Garjah. “Sorry, buddy.” I’d try to make them let him go whenever they put me stopped next.

And me too. I wanted off this ship.


Garjah silently took me back to my quarters. The way seemed even longer because I was trying to pay attention, but I was so exhausted my eyes kept closing and I’d jerk them open not knowing how long I’d drifted. Plus I was almost positive we went a different way than we’d taken to the hold, and the guide strips didn’t make much sense.

“Sleep. Recover. Timok will be by after the sleep shift to check on you.” Garjah deposited me on my bunk.

“Just Timok?” I yawned, smothering it with a fist.

“I will be on duty.” Garjah inclined his head. “Rest well.” He left and sleep claimed me quickly.


The next morning, or shift, or just whenever they’d decided I’d slept long enough, Timok entered my quarters and shook me awake. I shouldn’t have been this tired. “Did you do something to me?” I narrowed my eyes, sitting up and scrubbing a hand over my short hair.

“Define do and something,” he said. “I administered a booster to help you, gave Garjah reliable data on humans, helped your cerops…? What more do you want?”

“A ride back to where you picked me up, Bouncer out of stasis, and to go on my way back to my ship,” I answered promptly.

“You are in possession of knowledge dangerous to many should it be shared. Ancalagon should have been safe, but your patrols are getting more bold.”

I snorted. Bold. Needy was more like it. The universe was a pretty big place, but people—humans, aliens, basically all sentient life—bred nearly unchecked. The challenge was finding the resources to support everyone.

“You’ve taken my equipment. I can’t share any proof.” I’d find a way.

“Hmm….” Timok’s expression didn’t change, or I couldn’t see it. “Even so, what happens next is not my decision.” He waved a hand, then slapped it against his side. “Come now, it is time you bathed. You are emitting an odor that is growing steadily more unpleasant, so I assume your species bathe frequently.”

“Of course we do!” I sniffed discreetly, but all I could smell was the salt and metal that permeated the ship and my clothes.

The short-sleeved suit I’d worn under my exosuit was only so good for so long, plus I’d slogged across the planet for some time in it. I probably could use a shower. “Do you have a shower I can use?” I didn’t see another door in my quarters where they’d stuck me.

“Stand here.” Timok indicated a space on the floor with a subtle texture. “Touch here.” He pointed to a small depression on the wall and then another one spaced farther than my fingers would spread. I sighed and used both hands to press the marks. Heated waves radiated down against my head and shoulders.

“Oh!” A sonic shower. “And it does my clothes at the same time? Efficient.”

“Usually you disrobe,” Timok said dryly. “We do have facilities to launder clothing.”

My face went up in flames. “Oh.”

“However, being as you have no other clothing, I can see the confusion.”

Aha! Here was my chance. “I have other clothing in my pack. Can I get it back?”

Timok’s face was easier to read than Garjah’s. The wrinkle between his narrowed eyes said things were sneaking through his brain. Maybe the same things going through mine. I widened my eyes and smiled serenely.

“Garjah didn’t get that for you?”

I hedged, “I was too tired after seeing Bouncer. I’d feel a lot better with my things.” Any biologist knew creatures managed captivity better with familiar surroundings. I’d play on that if I had to. 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes